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Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

The Hokkaido is a medium to large purebred from Japan bred to be a working dog and hunter. It is also called Ainu Inu, Ainu-Ken, Hokkaido Dog, Hokkaido Ken, Hokkaidoken, Hokkaïdo, Seta and nicknamed Do-ken. It has a life span of 11 to 13 years and is a sturdy and tough hard worker that can also be loyal and affectionate with its family. It has a great resistance to cold climates and great stamina too. But what stands out about this dog is how it can find its home and owner no matter where it is thanks to its great sense of smell and sense of direction.

The Hokkaido at a Glance
Name Hokkaido
Other names Ainu Inu, Ainu-Ken, Hokkaido Dog, Hokkaido Ken, Hokkaidoken, Hokkaïdo, Seta, Hokkaido Ainu
Nicknames Dō-ken
Origin Japan
Average size Medium to large
Average weight 45 to 65 pounds
Average height 18 to 22 inches
Life span 11 to 13 years
Coat type Harsh, straight outer coat, soft, dense undercoat
Hypoallergenic No
Color Red, white, brindle, black, sesame, wolf-gray, black and tan
Popularity Not recognized by the AKC
Intelligence High
Tolerance to heat Good
Tolerance to cold Excellent – can handle even extreme cold
Shedding Average usually but heavy seasonal shedding – expect some hair in the home, and a great deal during heavier shedding times
Drooling Average – some slobber and drool when drinking perhaps
Obesity Average – measure its food and track its exercise
Grooming/brushing Average to high – brush twice a week usually and then daily when shedding is heavier
Barking Occasional – some barking but not all the time
Exercise needs High – needs active owners
Trainability Easy for experienced owners
Friendliness Good to very good
Good first dog No – requires an experienced owner
Good family pet Yes – requires socialization
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Good to very good with socialization
Good with other pets Good with socialization but can have high prey drive
Good with strangers Good but requires socialization – can be wary
Good apartment dog No – needs space and a yard
Handles alone time well No – does not like being alone for long periods
Health issues Somewhat healthy but a few issues include Hip/elbow dysplasia, luxating patella, seizures, anxiety and heart murmurs
Medical expenses $460 a year for basic health needs and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $245 a year for basic training, toys, license and miscellaneous items
Average annual expenses $975 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $500
Rescue organizations None breed specific, check local shelters and rescues
Biting Statistics None reported

The Hokkaido’s Beginnings

The Hokkaido is a Japanese Spitz type of dog and the Ainu part of its name in some of the versions comes from the tribe of people called the Ainu. Hokkaido is the name of the northern Japanese island. It is thought the dogs ancestors called the Matagi-ken came with the Ainu people from main Japan to the island sometime in the 1100s. It is believed to have been around for over three thousand years but little is really known about its origins. This makes it one of Japan’s oldest breeds, and is a cousin to the Akita. It may also be related to the Shar Pei and Chow Chow as it has that distinct and unusual blue black tongue.

The dogs were alert and that made them good village guardians and were also used to hunt large game like bear and to do draft work. It was unknown to the rest of the world for hundreds of years. It was actually not named the Hokkaido until 1869 by a visiting zoologist from England called Thomas Blankiston and this is when the world first heard of it. Thanks to it being able to handle extreme cold temperatures, in 1902 it was actually used in a rescue operation when an army expedition tried to cross the Hakkoda Mountains, and got caught in heavy snow. This saw it see some popularity rise.

New Lease on Life

In 1937 it was placed in the protected rare species list by Japan as numbers were very low. Its name was officially changed too from Ainu dog to Hokkaido-Inu, though most people in Japan call it Hokkaido-Ken. The FCI recognized them as Ainu Dog but it is not yet recognized by the AKC. In 2007 it was used on a SoftBank commercial, they are a telecom company in Japan and it won an award, drawing positive attention their way. Since the commercial was directed by an American, Quentin Tarantino in fact who also starred in it, this also drew some attention from the US. However despite that numbers are still low, the breed is rare in Japan and almost unheard of outside of it.

The Dog You See Today

The Hokkaido is a medium to large dog weighing 45 to 65 pounds and standing 18 to 22 inches tall. It has not changed much in looks from its early days, a fierce appearance and similar in looks to its cousin the Akita. It is built sturdily but is still agile and is proportioned and well balanced. It is muscled and strong with good stamina. Its chest is somewhat deep and the shoulders slope a little and its neck is powerful and strong too. The tail is thick and bushy and curls over its back and dogs bred in Japan tend to be larger than the rare ones bred elsewhere.

This dog has a double coat, with the under coat being shorter, soft and dense and thick protecting it from the cold and the outer being straight, medium in length and harsh to touch. Common colors are brindle, black and tan, grey, white and red. The head is broad and the forehead is flat. Its muzzle is wedge shaped and it has a blue black tongue with black spots in it. The nose is black as are the lips and the eye rims. The eyes themselves are small and dark brown in color. Its ears are also small, triangular shaped and erect.

The Inner Hokkaido


The Hokkaido is a brave, tough, determined dog making it a great guard dog, hunter, watchdog and hard worker and a loyal and devoted companion. It is very devoted to its owner and can return to them from great distances. This devotion though means that re-homing is hard for older Hokkaido. While temperament can vary depending on breeding and lineage in the right hands it should be well behaved, alert, intelligent, obedient and even gentle. It is affectionate to those in its family but it needs firm and clear leadership otherwise it can be stubborn, headstrong and even aggressive in certain situations.

In Japan it is commonly kept as both a working dog and a family pet rather than one or the other. One big job they have is to work with handlers to help manage the number of bear and wild boar in the area. It uses various noises, howls and different barks as signals on the hunt and it can carry some of that into the home. It is determined and unrelenting and is not a dog for first time owners. It also does not like to be left alone for long periods. It is happiest when it is with its owner and its family.

Living with a Hokkaido

What will training look like?

With an experienced owner this dog is easy to train, it is intelligent and can be quick to train especially at just basic obedience level. However it does have a stubborn side and you will need to be firm, a clear leader, consistent and confident. Make sure you start training and socialization early as things will go quicker and it has less chance to develop the habit of refusing you! Introduce it to different people, places, situations, animals and sounds so it gets used to them and learns how to deal with them. It helps to know this dog is motivated by food so treats are a great help in training, also use other positive methods of encouragement and praise.

How active is the Hokkaido?

This is a very active dog that needs a lot of physical activity and mental stimulation to keep it happy and healthy. It needs to go for at least two long brisk walks a day, have play time with you and it can happily join you for hikes, jogs and such. It also does well at dog sports like weight pull, dock diving, agility, rally, lure coursing and flyball. It is not suited to an apartment and it needs at least a large yard to play in. If it does not get enough exercise and stimulation it will become bored and that could lead to it becoming destructive and hard to live with.

Caring for the Hokkaido

Grooming needs

The coat of this dog is dense and medium-long and you will need a metal comb and pin brush to groom it with. It sheds an average amount so expect some hair around the home but then it sheds heavily seasonally. This will mean a lot of hair in clumps and on counters and clothing and daily brushing at that time is recommended. Otherwise twice a week can help with some of the loose hair and debris and dirt. It should not need to be bathed often, usually once every 3 or 4 months is sufficient, do it just when it really needs one and only use a mild canine shampoo. The thickness of the coat means drying takes longer.

The mails should be trimmed when they get too long, about every tow or three weeks. Use proper canine nail clippers and do not cut too far down the nail. There are blood vessels and nerves in them, if you cut into them there will be bleeding and pain. Its teeth and gums need taking care of too, give them a brush two to three times a week using a toothpaste and brush meant for dogs. Brushing daily would be even better if possible. Its ears too need regular checking and care. Once a week give the ears a check for infection signs like bad odor, swelling, redness and irritation. Clean them weekly too by carefully wiping the parts you can reach using a damp cloth or dog ear cleanser solution. Do not insert cotton buds into the ears, you could hurt them, do permanent hearing damage and cause it a lot of pain.

Feeding Time

It eats between 2½ to 4½ cups of a good to excellent quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals. The amount can vary depending on its size, activity level, health, age and rate of metabolism. It should always have access to water that is kept as fresh as possible and being an active breed make sure it gets enough protein and fat in its food.

How is the Hokkaido with other animals and children?

When the Hokkaiso has had good training and socialization it can be good with children but is best with older ones unless it gets raised alongside them. Make sure children are taught how to approach, touch and play with them in an acceptable manner. If raised with other medium to large sized dogs it can be good with them though small ones it may be a problem with. Though it does have a high prey drive with the right approach some can be around them fine and accept them as part of the family, but others may always need to be monitored.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

It has a life span of 11 to 13 years and is a fairly healthy breed but some issues to be aware of include seizures, hip dysplasia, eye problems, anxiety, pica, patella luxation, heart problems and psychogenic polydipsia. Bloat and ear infections are also something to wary of.

Biting Statistics

In reports of dogs attacking people and causing bodily harm in North America over the last 35 years there is no mention of the Hokkaido. This is not a surprise seeing as there are very few dogs in this region, most are still in Japan. However in general this is not an aggressive breed as long as it has been bred well and is raised well. While all dogs have the potential for aggression in various situations there are ways to limit them. Make sure this is really the dog for you and that you can provide it with the things it needs. Give it good socialization, training, exercise and stimulation, and make sure it gets enough companionship with you too.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

The Hokkaido puppy will cost you around $500 and that is from a decent breeder and does not take into account transportation costs if you are buying fro Japan and live elsewhere in the world. For a top breeder you can expect to pay even more than that. Take the time to find a good and trustworthy breeder, avoid places like puppy mills, pet stores and backyard breeders. If you are undecided still on what type of dog or you are not completely fixed on a purebred do think about adoption. A lot of dogs some purebred and a lot mixed are sitting in shelters and rescues desperate for someone to being them home and love them. Adoption will cost about $50 to $400.

Initial health needs like spaying or neutering, micro chipping, deworming, blood tests, vaccinations and a physical exam will cost about $290. It should be taken to get these done soon after you get it home. Items it will need includes things like a crate, carrier, bowls, collar and leash and such and they will cost about $230.

There are also costs that are ongoing for as long as you have the dog, things like food, toys, training, health and such. You need to be able to cover those costs. $270 a year will get you a good quality dry dog food and dog treats. $245 a year will get you a license, toys, basic training and miscellaneous items. $460 should cover basic health needs like shots, flea and tick prevention, check ups and pet insurance. This means a yearly cost of at least $975.


Looking for a Hokkaido Name? Let select one from our list!

The Hokkaido is mostly found in Japan and is a working dog and companion. It needs active owners, a good space to play in and is best in rural settings, or at least semi rural ones. It is definitely not an urban dog. Make sure you socialize and train it well and remember as fierce as it appears and as brave as it is out on the hunt it still needs your attention and time. It will be completely loyal and devoted to you.

Featured Image Credit By: CC0 Public Domain. pxhere

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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